The Gospel Ripple Effect

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, January 21, 2015 0 comments

by Logan Ames

As anyone who has ever jumped in a pool or thrown a large rock into a lake knows, the ripple effect always starts from the point of impact and moves outward. Unless there is some scientific phenomenon of which I am not aware, it is impossible for the ripple to be felt far away from the impact first and then work its way back to the object.

The ripple effect caused by the gospel message of Jesus Christ works the same way. In Romans 1:15-17, the Apostle Paul talks about his eagerness to continue speaking about this gospel to the Christians even in Rome, where it was still pretty dangerous to do so. He goes on to share why he is eager: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (v. 16). This was one of the first Bible verses I ever had to memorize when I was a child, yet I didn’t really understand the last part of it until just recently. Many who struggle to believe the truth found in the Bible will point to statements within it that seem to contradict one another. For example, Romans 2:11 says, “For God does not show favoritism”. That verse is right after the “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” phrase is repeated two more times! One might wonder how it is possible for God to not show favoritism if the Jews are constantly coming first!

I’d like to address this apparent contradiction, because understanding why Paul mentions this phrase three times in the first two chapters of Romans can help us with our mission mindset even today. It is true that God does not show favoritism, but the Jews never seemed to grasp this. They were the people of the Old Testament who had a covenant with God and it did provide certain advantages. The problem was that they took their standing with God for granted and forgot about their purpose. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). Rather than seeing their advantages as given to them for the purpose of “making them a light” to others, many Jews viewed Gentiles (anyone who is not Jewish) as unclean and undeserving of salvation. So while God did not show favoritism, the Jews certainly favored themselves!

Paul seemed to understand Israel’s position and call when he lived during the New Testament times. When he mentions that salvation comes “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile”, he is simply pointing out that the Jewish race is where God chose to begin his message of redemption, grace, and salvation. The word “first” isn’t about favoritism; it’s about responsibility. Israel had a covenant with God based on the faithfulness of Abraham and their other forefathers, but then they broke their covenant and God chose to redeem them through a descendant of their own race. When Christ came to the earth and was born a Jew, the gospel message was brought FIRST to the Jews. The responsibility of his Jewish disciples, according to Jesus’ own command, was to “go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19 [caps mine]). The Jews first had the opportunity to receive the gospel message of salvation so they could then expand it to “all nations”. God chose to bring that message through a man and chose to have that man be born to a Jewish woman. This isn’t favoritism because it’s merely the starting point.

Think about what I wrote above about the object being tossed into the pool or lake. Jesus Christ and his closest followers were that object. The ripple effect of the gospel was intended to reach ALL nations as it went out from the Jewish race. After Jesus gave the Great Commission (quoted above), he repeated his intentions for the gospel message again in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. Later in Acts 8:1, we see that “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria”. And so it began.

So, the question we all must address at this point is what this means for us in the church today. I believe the answer is two-fold. First of all, let’s not ever get too conceited based on what we think our position is before God in the church. The church where I pastor is going through a potentially large change in leadership structure right now. We had a great discussion the other day about how being an elder, deacon, pastor, or any other officer in the church is not about power or authority, but about service and responsibility according to the gifts God has given to each person. It is important to remember that our positions mean nothing if we don’t use them to continue to expand the gospel message.

The second meaning for me has to do with how we approach evangelism as individuals and as groups or churches. We have to remember the direction of the ripple effect. In other words, we can’t be thinking about how to reach people for Jesus in China when we haven’t even shared his message of salvation with those who are right around us. You may feel there are so many hurting people out there who need Christ and you may wonder where to start. Sometimes people get paralyzed by trying to “figure out” the starting point. I believe, based on the direction the message has expanded since it began with the Jews, that we simply just need to begin right where we are. Start with the people in your own home if you have family members who need the hope and grace of Christ. Move on to the people in your schools, offices, grocery stores, banks, and others that you see regularly. Then, maybe you can begin to develop a plan to reach those in your city that you wouldn’t run into on a regular basis. After that comes surrounding towns, states, countries, and eventually the ends of the earth!

As a final word of encouragement for you regarding the responsibility that we all share to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth, I want to tell you that obviously there will be people who reject you and reject the gospel at every level that I shared. I assure you, there are people in my own family who don’t know Jesus. If I had not shared his message with them at this point, I’d feel that would be where I would need to start. However, the encouraging part is that Paul faced the same thing. In Acts 13, he and Barnabas explained to the Jews that they had to speak the word of God to them first, but have turned to the Gentiles after some of the Jews rejected it (v. 46). Then, we are told that Paul and Barnabas “shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them” before they left that town (v. 51). It was common for Jews, after they had to go through a Gentile city, to shake the dust off their feet as a way of saying they didn’t want to take anything from the Gentile city with them. Paul was sending a strong message that, as long as they consciously reject Jesus, he will move on to those who are eager to hear about him no matter what nationality they are.

Friends, when you or the message you bring are rejected, it may sting. But remember your purpose of spreading this message of hope, grace, and salvation. Have the confidence in Christ and his work in you to shake the dust off your feet and move on. The ripple effect continues until the gospel has reached the ends of the earth. Will you be a part of it?